Paradoxes Of Power Essay Research Paper It

Paradoxes Of Power Essay, Research Paper

It may be said that the institution of power has always been a prevalent force in our

society. It is a large part of what holds society together; without it civilized society as we know it

would not exist. The functions of power range from keeping crime at bay to the more

commonplace aspects such as allowing patrons to be served in a restaurant. The notion of power

is almost invisible until further analyzed; it is something that we perceive as being simple

and therefore take for granted. Yet there are so many intricacies in regard to power that still

remain to be seen. In Chapter Three of Sociological Insight by Randall Collins, the author

establishes some valid points concerning power. He posits that power is something of a self-

contradiction, that it is often most effective when subtly exercised. Collins also delves into the

various forms that power may take, such as money and coercion, which are negated as valid forms

of power. Lastly, the importance of implicit principles and understandings is emphasized, also

illustrating that power is most firmly established in the realms of both certainty and uncertainty.

In accordance with the title of Chapter Three, Paradoxes of Power, Collins’ main point is

that power is truly a contradiction; the word itself evokes images of monarchs and times long

gone by. But in the present day and an era marked by the rise of democracy, power has little to

do with such institutions; rather it something that is exercised on high levels as well as lower ones.

Although it is something not often thought about, power is everywhere. It is evident in the legal

system’s prosecution of criminals and a child’s compliance with a mother’s request; it is entirely

possible that power exists in some form within every human and social relationship. Yet some

forms of power are certainly more effective than others. The key to realizing power most

effectively lies in the acknowledgement of occasional concession and knowing when to “giv(e) in

on something less important” (74). For instance, once again consider the example of a mother

and child. Assume that the child wants to go over to a friend’s house to play, but he has promised

his mother that he would do his chores that afternoon. The child begs his mother to let him go

and play, assuring her that he will do his chores immediately upon arriving home. The mother

concedes, and the child is happy. If we are to analyze this situation in terms of gains and losses,

the mother has gained points with her son and has essentially suffered no loss-the chores will still

be done, only a few hours later. Throughout the entire scenario, the mother’s power is evident,

both explicit and implicitly; the son does not forget that his mother has the ultimate say in what

he does, and in letting her son go she has not only made him happy but is also asserting her power

as a parent. In sum, the mother has most effectively realized her power by knowing when to

sacrifice something that is of lesser importance while gaining more long-term benefits.

Another way that power may be asserted is by the influences of certain situations, namely

that of certainty and uncertainty. The former has been expounded on in the previous paragraph,

while the latter has yet to be explained. Perhaps uncertainty may be thought of as a “foothold” for

power. Uncertainty assures power and dominance by utilizing the fear of the unknown. An

example of this is the success of insurance companies, who essentially sell peace of mind. They

attain and establish their power by causing people to ask, “What if…” Since most people do not

have the ability to see into the future, an insurance policy seems like a sensible thing to have.

It would even be fair to say that insurance companies have capitalized on the notion of


Collins also claims that the two most commonly overestimated forms of power, money

and coercion, are rather invalid forms of control. Money is often thought of as the ultimate

incentive; it can assure you that the job will be done, but it does not guarantee how well that

job will be performed or that you will even be satisfied with the exchange. It is human nature to

gain the most benefits with the least amount of work possible, therefore making money an

inefficient control. For those who do not care whether the quality of work is poor, then it may be

said that money is indeed an effective method of exerting power. However, that is not often the

case, and as a general rule money is definitely a poor form of power.

Another exceedingly futile form of power is that of coercion by force. Coercion essen-

tially utilizes threats and terrorism in order to accomplish one’s goal; it is perhaps the most

contradictory of all the different forms of power. It is also the most self-defeating; the more it is

exercised the less control is attained over a subordinate. Perhaps the most interesting question

that now may be raised is why one would want to mistreat someone who is performing a task

for them. Logically, doing so would only damage the subordinate and lower his or her capacity

for work, not to mention the inner rebellion that such treatment would bring about. Let the

assumption be made that through repeated threats and slight physical harm, a degree of relative

control is established over a subordinate. Although you now technically have control over

this individual, they are inwardly rebelling against you and how you have treated them. They will

do whatever you ask them to, but the quality of their work will be extremely poor, not unlike the

results of using money as a form of control. Thus, both money and coercion are proven to be

inefficient forms of power.

In analyzing the institution of power so closely, the author has brought to light a multiple

of viewpoints on power in its many forms. Perhaps he wishes to break down the components of

power in order for it to be seen in a simpler light and to emphasize the egalitarian nature of

humanity in spite of social classifications, by elucidating the fact that power is something that can

be learned.

What I have gathered from this analysis is mainly the duality of power. It is at times both

complex and startlingly basic, due to the fact that, with the exclusion of philosophers, it is not

something often meditated upon. I have come away from this reading with the knowledge that

power is not based solely upon always having the upper hand, but rather it is knowing when to